Earnest Byner is eighth in the AFC with 515 yards and has another 234 yards receiving, proving he still has something left in his 34-year-old legs. Fullback Carwell Gardner has not run much lately, but he has been solid all year. And over the past two weeks, Bam Morris has added a dimension that should make this phase of the offense much more potent over the season's second half. If the Ravens want to upgrade the offense, they should run Morris more.
A passer cannot perform much better than Vinny Testaverde has this season, especially over his past four games, during which he has thrown for 13 touchdowns. He has brought his team from behind numerous times, and he is spreading the ball around to all his receivers effectively. His early-season interception woes are behind him for now. If he only had a defense
Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander have come on strong as one of the best duos in the NFL. Through the first half of the season, they have more combined yardage (1,286) than any other tandem and they have 13 touchdowns between them. Floyd Turner has emerged in the past two weeks, but a few players were disturbed that the team cut Calvin Williams.
Brian Kinchen, who is among the most sure-handed receivers on the team, started strongly, but his presence has faded a bit with the arrival of Eric Green. With Green, this position figures to get stronger in the season's second half, even though Green still is slightly bothered by knee problems. The return of Frank Hartley gives the Ravens another huge run blocker to go with Green. This position's best days are ahead.
From Day One, this has been the team's strong suit, with as good a blend of size, quickness and technique as can be found in the NFL. Tackles Tony Jones and Orlando Brown have been steady bookends, and center Steve Everitt was playing some of the best ball of his four-year career before tearing a pectoral muscle in Denver. Rookie left guard Jonathan Ogden has been as good as advertised. Between run blocking and pass protection, this line is ultimately the reason the Ravens have the No. 3 offense in the NFL.
This group was struggling to stop teams up front even before the disastrous Indianapolis game Oct. 13, when tackle Dan Footman and end Rob Burnett were seriously injured. The Ravens also lost end Anthony Pleasant for the first five games to a sprained ankle. In other words, the projected first string has yet to play together this year.
This was the team's main weakness on draft day, and even with the emergence of rookie Ray Lewis -- excellent in pursuit, too small in one-on-one situations against many of the NFL's offensive linemen and blocking backs -- it is still the team's Achilles' heel. Outside linebackers Jerrol Williams and Mike Croel have been non-factors in too many games. Second-year player Craig Powell is still invisible. Other than Lewis, only Mike Caldwell has given the Ravens hope, and Caldwell has been hurt for a good part of the season.
The lack of a pass rush never helps a secondary, and the Ravens are no exception. But a team doesn't allow an average of two touchdown passes per game without ineffective play in the backfield, and the Ravens are no exception there, either. Cornerback Antonio Langham has been a major disappointment, having allowed a touchdown pass in every game but one. Safety Eric Turner's ankle injury, which knocked him out of two games, has not helped. The Ravens may clean house in this unit after the season.
This was supposed to be one of the team's strengths, but that has not been the case, with the exception of punter Greg Montgomery, who has given the Ravens excellent field position repeatedly. He is averaging 45.1 yards per punt, and is fourth in the AFC with a 37.7-yard net. Kicker Matt Stover has missed two of three field-goal attempts in two games and has gone three other games without an attempt. Rookie Jermaine Lewis has been inconsistent returning punts, and the Ravens' kick-coverage teams have allowed too many big returns.
Head coach Ted Marchibroda and quarterback coach Don Strock deserve credit for the way they have brought out the best in Testaverde, and no one can accuse the Ravens of not playing hard, which is another testament to Marchibroda. Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis overestimated the talent he had to make the 4-3 defense work, and his switch to a 3-4, necessitated by injuries on the line, may prove to be better in the long run. The uneven performance of the special teams under Scott O'Brien, the 1994 Special Teams Coach of the Year, has been a surprise.
Pub Date: 11/03/96